Saturday, January 29, 2011

Increasing Computer Efficiency

Computers and the Internet are a large part of peoples lives these days, with at least one desktop or laptop for every household.  I have recently done a calculation of the power requirements of my home. Computers with all of the add-ons such as the monitor, modem, router, and speakers utilized 140 kilowatts a month or 30-45% of my total electricity usage.  That is a large portion of my bill coming from my computer usage, this however will differ with different people,  as not everybody will use their computer to the same extent.  However there improvements that can be made to reduce your computers power requirements while operational.  I would like to go over some of these improvements that can save money and energy. 

User interface for Software
Photo Courtesy of

First off I would like to mention a newly discovered software that increases your computers efficiency.  The software in question is, you can find information about it and download it here.  All you have to do in order to save energy is download the program and install it.  The program is free for personal use, there is a commercial version that is available as well for a fee. The program once installed will not affect your computers performance, it simply applies a dimmer switch sort of operation to your computer.  There may be unnecessary processes occurring while your computer is running, turns those operations off when they are not being used thus preventing your computer from wasting energy.  As shown in the picture above the program provides you with snap shot of how much money, energy, emissions you save, you will notice that as your computer is running the numbers will fluctuate since your computer is utilizing different operations.  However it hovering around 20% on my computer, so this means that I am now shaving 9%  or $4 off my total electricity bill.  I would highly encourage every one to install the program, it is free, it will not affect your computers performance and you get to save energy! is by far not the only software that you could download, you could definately search the expanses of the web or at your local computer store for other softwares.  However there are other options that you could implement to help save energy and money.  With most computers you can adjust your computers power settings  under the Control Panel as shown below.  You usually have a three options ranked in the order of their ability to save power; Power Saver, Energy Star, and High Performance.  Energy star would be the best option for users that utilize their computers for a myriad of functions such as music, browsing, movies, or games.  However if you only use a computer for basic functions such as taxes or emails I would suggest the Power Star option.  The more energy that your computer saves with each option the more likely your computers performance will suffer.  The Power Saver and Energy Star options will make small changes such as not representing file icons with a picture of the what the actual file looks like, among changes to the computers operating system that are not visible. 

Computer power options

Computer sleep options.
You also have the ability to set when you want to your computer to go to sleep, or when you want your monitor to turn off.  This is useful if you are very easily distracted and leave your computer on when you leave.  I would like to explain a little about what the sleep mode actually does.  There are two versions of sleep mode called stand-by, and hibernate.  Stand-by (or Sleep) will turn off most of your computers operations after taking a snapshot of the configuration of programs you had open.  Your computer is still on but uses a minuscule amount of power such as 4-6 Watts, whereas when your computer is on your computer uses anywhere between 100-400 Watts.  When you need your computer operational again it only takes a few seconds after you push the power button before every thing is restored.  The sleep mode is highly convenient for those with fast paced lives but still want to do something good for the environment.

Hibernate is the best option energy wise as it will completely shut your computer down using zero power, but it allows you to bypass the 7 minute computer start up process.  The Hibernate function takes a "snapshot" of your current configuration and current programs and stores the data, so that when you push the power button you are taken back to your last workspace.  The only drawback with hibernate is that it does take 1-3 minutes to restore your computer.  Most computers will activate the hibernate mode automatically if your computer has been sleeping for an extended period of time. 

I would encourage you to set the sleep mode to activate after short time frames, such as 3 or 5 minutes.  These settings will not affect your computers performance in anyway while you are using it, and will not put your computer to sleep in the middle of your work.  If you like to play music on your computer while you read, the computer recognizes this as a form of operation and thus will not put your computer to sleep, it would simply shut your monitor off.  If you set your sleep options to shorter intervals, this means that when you get distracted away from your computer and you forget to manually put the computer to sleep, it will not  wait 30 minutes or 1 hour before it goes to sleep.  You do not waste power needlessly and can restore the computer within seconds.

If you decide that your computer is not running as fast as it can, before you consider recycling your current computer to buy a new one,  why not consider upgrading your existing computer.  You can replace your existing memory cards or add new memory cards.  An upgrade of 4 GB of memory runs at $100 or two 1 G memory cards runs for $50.  By installing new memory cards there is a higher chance that you are increasing the efficiency of your computer, since newer cards are made smaller and more efficient.  Things that you need to know in order to upgrade your memory:

  • Memory cards work best in pairs, so to maximize the efficiency of your computer it is best to add two memory cards, or if you do not have enough slots, replace two of the existing cards with two identical larger memory cards.  Also take note which slots the old memory cards were located, as those locations were wired to match a pair of memory cards.
  • Your computer has specific needs and unless you are a computer engineer and know otherwise, it is best to ensure that you buy new cards that match the speed (e.g. 667 Hz) and type (e.g. DDR2) of the existing cards.  So before you buy your new cards make sure that you take a look at your computers type and speed, and buy two identical cards from the store with the same criteria.  If you do not buy the correct speed or type, the computer will not be able to utilize them and since it is trying to run without the proper memory supply may become corrupt and crash.
However you may determine that upgrading your current system will not work for you due to costs or lack of expertise, and decide to buy a new computer.  I would encourage you to buy a laptop as they are built to be more efficient.  Laptops are generally built to be more efficient as they have to be.  Laptops have to operate off of its own power source (its battery) at times, and they best way laptop manufacturers can maximize its customers satisfaction and thus increase sales is by maximizing a laptops battery life. 

You should also consider using the memory and hard drive from your old computer to upgrade your new one.  Don't just throw your old computer and monitor into the trash.  Computers and especially the monitor may contain mercury, among other rare metals.  Mercury is harmful to humans and the environment and if your are just throwing it into a landfill, you increase the risk of that mercury finding its way into our groundwater.  Those rare metals, such as gold are highly sought out commodities for recycling.  It is much more efficient to mine our old computers for these rare metals rather than destroying our landscapes due to actual mines.

It is common for most people to own printers, printers do not utilize much power when they are on and are not printing, about 4 watts.  However if you want to save more power you can turn the printer off if you do not print that often.  Before you even print something, consider if you actually need to print it, when a printer is actually printing it uses 500-700 watts if laser, and 20-30 watts if ink-jet.  If you need to buy a printer try to buy an ink-jet, they are slower, however they save 5 times less energy when printing.  You could also skip buying a printer at all and allow the printing businesses that are around to do so. These businesses may charge between 10 cents per black & white sheets, and 30 cents per color sheet.   If you do not print that often, these businesses allow you to save the cost of buying a printer, and the energy of having to manufacture and recycle printers.  Printers themselves cost around $100 however the real cost comes from the ink cartridges which can run out quickly and cost around $45 per cartridge.

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